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"ELVIS & NIXON"
(2016) (Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: Various people work to set up a meeting between Elvis Presley and President Richard Nixon in the White House.
PLOT:
It's 1970 and rock and roll legend Elvis Presley (MICHAEL SHANNON) has become fed-up with what he deems are increasing amounts of un-American behavior around the country, including the growing epidemic of drug use among the younger generation. Accordingly, he wants to help and believes he can by becoming an undercover government agent that would allow him to infiltrate those he believes are trying to undermine the country.

Convincing his close friend, Jerry Schilling (ALEX PETTYFER) -- who was once in the King's inner circle but now works for a movie studio in Los Angeles -- to join him, the two set out for Washington, D.C. where Elvis tries to deliver a handwritten note to Richard Nixon (KEVIN SPACEY) offering his services.

They're obviously stopped at the front gate, but the note eventually makes its way to Dwight Chapin (EVAN PETERS) and then his boss, Egil "Bud" Krogh (COLIN HANKS). The two believe a meeting between the President and Elvis could provide some much needed good PR for their boss, but higher-ups in the White House have their doubts. With bodyguard Sonny West (JOHNY KNOXVILLE) joining Elvis and Jerry in their waiting game, Bud and Dwight do what they can to make the potentially historic meeting happen.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Not to be a Debbie Downer, but the sad reality is that 99.9999 percent of people who ever lived will be forgotten by everyone but friends and family within 50 years of their passing. And as hard as it might seem to ardent fans, only a minuscule fraction of those who are currently famous will be remembered 100 years after their deaths.

Heck, you could ask a lot of teenagers today to tell you something about Elvis Presley (gone 39 years) or Richard Nixon (22 years gone and 20 more since he resigned as U.S. President) -- arguably two of the most famous people of the 20th century -- and most would be hard pressed to comment much more than they briefly learned in history class.

Of course, those of us around back in both men's glory and infamy days remember the King in both his svelte "Jailhouse Rock" mode and the later, puffy, long sideburns, jumpsuit modes. And "Tricky Dick" will always be associated with the Watergate break-in and secret White House recordings.

In a way and solely from a historic standpoint, it's too bad the latter wasn't yet in place and active when the King met the President in the Oval Office on December 21, 1970. While notes were taken and the meeting was eventually revealed in columnist Jack Anderson's "Presley Gets Narcotics Bureau Badge" story, I imagine Presley fanatics and presidential historians would have loved to have heard the entirety of that historic meeting and exchange.

With that chance gone forever, both groups and the general population will have to rely on the next best thing, the "inspired by true events" dramedy, "Elvis & Nixon." In this film helmed by director Liza Johnson, Michael Shannon ("Man of Steel," "99 Homes") plays Presley and Kevin Spacey ("House of Cards," "American Beauty") does his best Nixon impersonation.

While neither delivers the best such recreation you'll ever see (Shannon is far more of an unlikely fit from a physical/visual standpoint), both actors attempt to capture the general look of the real men and more so their particular demeanors.

The script by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal, and Cary Elwes works from the basic "fact is stranger than fiction" playbook, and thus everything plays out in a light dramedy manner rather than the other options of going for straight (and potentially boring) drama or outrageous satire which could easily miss the mark and come off like a misguided and overdrawn "Saturday Night Live" skit (something that may explain why the 1997 TV movie "Elvis Meets Nixon" -- which I never saw -- has been lost in Hollywood obscurity).

The plot is simple as Presley convinces his former inner circle associate (Alex Pettyfer) and bodyguard (Johnny Knoxville) to join him in D.C. as he tries to get a meeting with Nixon. His goal is to become an undercover government agent and thus use his newfound badge to infiltrate both the drug and anti-American movements in America.

At the same time, two White House staffers (Colin Hanks and Evan Peters) try to convince the higher-ups as well as the President himself that meeting with Elvis would be a much-needed and once-in-a-lifetime PR coup that could help him in the polls.

The two sides do their thing and despite some obstacles that no viewer would ever believe will prevent the meeting, the two famous men finally meet in the third, and most satisfying act of the film. It's both fun and funny watching the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) power struggle between the two, and Shannon and Spacey make the most of the storyline and their characters.

In the end, this movie will be long forgotten before the public's memories of both men fade away. But as an entertaining, nearly 90-minute diversion in the here and now, "Elvis & Nixon" is good enough to warrant a 6 out of 10 rating.




Reviewed March 23, 2016 / Posted April 22, 2016


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